This conversation is part two in the “Voices from the Frontline” blog series that tells the stories of how pesticides and industrial agriculture directly affect the lives of people across the country.
Claudia Angulo is a mother from Orange Cove, CA, whose kids attend schools near heavy pesticide use on citrus groves. In collaboration with the local nonprofit El Quinto Sol De America, a journalist helped Claudia conduct a biomonitoring study of her son — and they found over 50 different pesticides in his body. Claudia has since become a leader and activist within her community for pesticide reform, and the migrant education program recently nominated her for “parent of the year.” We had the opportunity to speak with Claudia about her experiences. Her answers have been translated from Spanish by Angel Garcia, a community organizer for El Quinto Sol and a longtime PAN partner.
Pesticide Action Network: How does industrial agriculture affect your life and your community as a whole?
Claudia Angulo: I first noticed the effects of pesticides with the birth of my second child. He was born with different health complications, but most notably the doctors detected something wrong with his cognitive development. I later came to find out that studies in recent years linked pesticides to some of the illnesses my child had.
When I first moved to the Central Valley [three years ago], my children started having acute reactions every time we smelled pesticides in the air. For example, my smallest child would get rashes and other skin reactions that are exacerbated during the spray season; she also gets major nasal congestion and bloody noses.
My other daughter has experienced a similar issue while she’s at school, where she sometimes gets a major bloody nose after reporting what she calls, an “ugly smell.” I went to her school and asked to keep the children indoors when the chemical smell could easily be perceived. Since I made this demand, school officials have kept children inside at those times. Schools in my community are near orange groves, and the smell is everywhere. My daughter sometimes doesn’t want to go to school because of the headaches and the nausea she gets from the smell . . . Schools don’t have an air monitoring, but the smell tells it all — it indicates that drift happens.
PAN: What has been your response?
Claudia: After learning about the dangers of pesticides, I began going to my children’s school to suggest that they not be taken out to the playground if I could perceive a smell. I became more active — I became an advocate. I now share the information I know with other mothers. I reach out to other organizations that are involved with this. I fight for pesticide reform. I recently requested that the migrant program talk about these concerns. Inform and take action. For now, I keep my kids indoors and give them lots of water to lessen acute reactions if they’ve been exposed.
PAN: What effects of pesticide exposure do you see in your larger community?
Claudia: During spray season, children are most vulnerable. At school, headaches and bloody noses are common, but go unreported. I’ve even seen some children pass out. I’m a parent volunteer at the school, and I’ve seen how the number of kids going in to see a nurse increases during spray season. School officials attribute this spike to heat stress even if the weather is a cool 75 degrees. But no, during spray season, more kids see the nurse.
PAN: What resources do you wish you had access to in order to combat this problem?
Claudia: Schools need to know what pesticides are applied nearby. It would also be beneficial to have growers use alternatives that are less dangerous. This change would benefit growers too, because their product would be better and more profitable; growers should look at this as an investment — quality of life would improve.
We also need more informational forums. Education is power. We have a right to know and DPR [the Department of Pesticide Reform] needs to improve outreach efforts. We need more people well-versed in the issue to take initiative because they have the means. They should be required to inform people.
PAN: What is your ideal vision of a just, healthy food system?
Claudia: Ultimately, I would like for schools and daycare centers to be free of pesticides. We need the children to be safe. This is what a healthy food system would look like. To start, growers need to transition away from dangerous chemicals. I know it’s expensive, but it is also possible. Better quality, healthier environment and more profit — again, we would all be healthier and have a better quality of life. We all win in a pesticide-free food system.
Photo: Family photo courtesy of Claudia Angulo.